Closed in and closed out: access to healthcare in the Seam Zone

By EA Ben

The West Bank Separation Barrier severely restricts Palestinian movement and keeps much of the population enclosed in increasingly tight enclaves. Israel state the the barrier is necessary for security, yet it regularly prevents ordinary Palestinians from accessing vital services, often without warning or explanation. Here, EA Ben reports on how Israel’s control of movement in the Seam Zone leaves many without reliable access to healthcare.

The Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) had some good news when they received a phone call from the local UN office, informing them that they were able to once again provide medical relief services within the Seam Zone. They had previously been informed by the Israeli authorities that they would not be given permission to visit the Seam Zone for a month. No reason was given for the rejection of their humanitarian pass.

The Seam Zone is a stretch of land trapped between the Green Line (the internationally recognised border between Israel and Palestine) and the separation barrier. The barrier, built by Israel, deviates significantly from the Green Line into the Palestinian West Bank. This leaves around 57,000 Palestinians trapped in the Seam Zone, often in villages not recognised by Israel. The traditional herding (Bedouin) communities in the area suffer from their children having to cross Israeli military checkpoints to reach their schools on the other side of the barrier, as well as reduced access to resources and services including electricity, fresh water and healthcare.

The communities are very poor, in large part due to being cut off from both Israel and the West Bank. These villages are among 100 communities or so with about 114,000 residents in Area C, an area under full Israeli military control. Israel’s full military control of Area C includes its roads, which is problematic as many of the Palestinian communities in Area C rely on mobile clinics to access primary healthcare.

EAs recently visited a number of these communities to meet the locals and hear about their experiences accessing vital services. We met with Mohammed in Arab Ar Ramadin Al Janubi, who suffers from muscular dystrophy. Mohammed explained that due to his reduced mobility, it was very difficult for him to travel through the checkpoint queues to get to the West Bank. He relied heavily on the mobile clinic.

Arab Abu Farda, a community dependent on its livestock for survival and also less well off than its close neighbour was particularly dependent on the clinic’s visits. This is because there are very few villagers who own a car and they tell us that Israeli public transport is expensive for them. We met a young woman in the village, who had sustained a hand injury was in desperate need of treatment after coming down with a severe infection. The biweekly visits ensured that the infection did not become too serious as it would have if left untreated.  

Another village, Arab Ar Ramadin Ash Shamali is split over a wide area and there are varying chronic illnesses within it. For example, in the main section of the village there is not a clean water supply and so gastroenteritis is rife. On a visit to a more remote area of the community, bronchial asthma was more of an issue. This was due to the air pollution present in the area caused by the burning of rubbish which it is not taken away by the Israeli authorities. 

EAs noticed that gaining access to the Seam Zone was very difficult for the PMRS and it could never be guaranteed that the Israeli military would allow their vehicles safe and prompt passage, despite so many of the Palestinian villages in the Seam Zone being dependent on them. On the first visit by the EAs, the PMRS staff and EAs had to get out of the vehicle and have their items searched while waiting for half an hour. During the time that the PMRS was waiting for approval to access the Seam Zone on its second visit, at least 40 Israeli registered cars were able to pass without being checked.

All of this helps to underline the importance of the work that the mobile clinic does in such difficult circumstances. The human right to health is protected in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Israel is a signatory.

Take Action!

Read this report by Medical Aid for Palestinians to learn about the challenges Palestinians face when trying to access healthcare under occupation.

Write to the Israeli Embassy in the UK or Ireland asking them to guarantee the right of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society to access remote communities in the Seam Zone. 

The Palestinian Medical Relief Society offer a range of voluntary opportunities in occupied Palestine. Consider volunteering to support their work and learning through direct experience about the challenges they face.